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Evidence of meeting #35 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was rcmp.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Audrey O'Brien  Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons
Kevin Vickers  Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

I call the meeting to order.

This is meeting number 35 of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Pursuant to the order of reference of Thursday, March 15, we are examining the question of privilege relating to the free movement of members within the parliamentary precinct.

This morning we have Madam O'Brien and Kevin Vickers. We're happy to have you both. It's always a great day when you come to visit our committee.

Do you have an opening statement or anything you'd like to share with us before we start? This is a study this committee has done before. Mr. Vickers, you have appeared here on this issue before, too.

11:35 a.m.

Audrey O'Brien Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Mr. Chair, I would first like to thank the committee for inviting us.

I just want to say that it's an issue that has arisen before. It's one we're familiar with—all too familiar with. Though we try to make sure these incidents don't repeat themselves, human nature being what it is and human error being what it is and Murphy's Law being what it is, there are these repetitions.

Basically, they usually happen when we are playing host to distinguished visitors here on Parliament Hill. Before the distinguished visitors arrive, invariably a threat assessment is done and the security posture is adjusted accordingly. When there are visitors of very high profile—I think of President George W. Bush, I think of Prime Minister Netanyahu—the security procedures can seem rather cumbersome.

Members will remember that on May 1, Speaker Scheer wrote to all members and their staff alerting them to the fact that, by virtue of the visit of His Excellency Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, on Monday, May 7, again special security measures will be in place.

Again, we will try to mitigate those.

However, sometimes there are glitches, and the RCMP, for example, might not recognize a member of Parliament.

We are here to answer your questions.

Thank you very much.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Let's start off, then.

Mr. Lukiwski, you have a seven-minute round to start us today.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Madam O'Brien and Monsieur Vickers, for being here.

I'll try to leave almost all the time for your commentary on this, because it's a bit of a Groundhog Day experience, since we're going through this again.

Mr. Vickers, perhaps you could start off by telling us what happened, in your opinion, on March 2, and why it occurred. More importantly, do you have any opinions on what we might be able to do to try to prevent this kind of situation from occurring again?

11:35 a.m.

Kevin Vickers Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

Mr. Chair, prior to these visits, extensive planning and meetings take place with all the security partners—the RCMP, the House, the Senate. We meet, and we come up with all the contingency plans we can think of to avoid these types of incidents.

One of the things, for example, that we always do is make sure that every RCMP officer has one of the member photo books. If a member of Parliament comes up and is not wearing his identification pin or his card, the officer can refer to the booklet.

In this case, my understanding from speaking with Mr. Stoffer is that he came up to the entrance point, spoke with the RCMP officer, and was challenged. He essentially agreed with the RCMP that he should have worn his pin. He went back to his office, got his pin, and then came back and was allowed onto the precinct.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Could you expand on that a little with respect to the difference between the security forces inside the House of Commons and those outside but still on the parliamentary precinct?

Then, further to that, do you have any suggestions on how we can make sure the situation doesn't occur again? As Madam O'Brien has said, we have the President of Israel coming shortly. We'd like to make sure this situation doesn't arise when that visit occurs.

11:35 a.m.

Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

Kevin Vickers

Depending on our resourcing levels and the status of the thing, there have been occasions in the past when our security people have gone out, because they are in contact with you every day. Our expectation with the RCMP, is of course—that area outside being their jurisdiction—that we count on and rely on them, through the use of the booklet, to be able to recognize or be able to ensure unfettered access for all members of Parliament.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Do you have any suggestions as to what we might be able to do? This isn't.... I jokingly referred to it as Groundhog Day because we've had several of these occasions in the past. Since it seems to be a recurring situation, do you have, Madam O'Brien, any suggestions?

11:35 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

There have been, of course, various suggestions made through many years about the amalgamation of security forces and so forth. I think that is a very ambitious plan, which might eventually bear fruit.

Frankly speaking, though, I think the number of these incidents—though as you say, there is a sort of Groundhog Day aspect to this—is really very small relative to the number of visitors we have and the special events that we have on the Hill. In that sense, I think we're controlling it quite well.

In the presentation that was made in the House, there was reference made to there being not only one MP stopped, but several others too. Looking into it, we did not actually find evidence that there was anybody but the one person involved.

I think the notion of giving the RCMP the booklet.... Again, it's a confluence of circumstances. If it happens to be a day when there are constables or RCMP personnel who have been here on the Hill for a number of months and are familiar with it, there are less likely to be incidents. As the sergeant says, if our personnel are there to accompany them and make sure they recognize people, then things can be better.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

I'm just curious. I think it's a good idea. We talked about this, actually, at committee—whether or not the RCMP had the booklet with all of the....

Did the RCMP in this particular case consult the book before Mr. Stoffer was turned away?

11:40 a.m.

Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

Kevin Vickers

It's my understanding, sir, that at that particular point, for whatever reason, those particular RCMP officers did not have that book.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

All right.

Finally, are there any other procedures or precautions you're taking prior to the arrival of the Israeli Prime Minister?

11:40 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Certainly, by virtue of the committee being seized of this particular question, I've asked the sergeant and the director of security to make sure that the RCMP is especially vigilant.

One would hope that members in turn would be particularly attentive to the memos they receive. We'll perhaps send out a reminder on Monday morning of the Speaker's note, just to remind people that when they come back from their constituencies this is what's happening. Members very often have so much on their minds that it's perhaps not top of mind.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Do I understand correctly that short of having a common security force both inside and outside the House, you don't believe there is anything further that can be done to prevent this situation from occurring in the future?

11:40 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Frankly speaking—perhaps I'm just getting old or have too much of a pessimistic nature, with the glass always being half empty, in my view—I think that even with an amalgamated force you might run into this kind of thing. It's certainly not in any way malicious or systemic; it's basically accidental. It's unfortunate, and we're very sorry about it, I have to say.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Great. And I don't find you at all to be pessimistic—

11:40 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Ah, bless you, Mr. Chairman.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

—or old. I was not even going to bring that word up.

Mr. Comartin, you have seven minutes.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

I'm going to challenge Madam O'Brien.

I'll go through the three incidents that have really bothered me because I think there were some systemic problems here outside the building.

When Peter Stoffer approached the RCMP they knew who he was. They called him by his first name and still told him he had to go back to his office. Peter didn't object. Peter quite frankly is prepared to do anything to cooperate with the security forces, I want to be clear on that, that's his position.

That was the situation with him.

Then Madame Laverdière approached security and was challenged. She presented her card and then was required to go back—this was on the east side—through the East Block and through the tunnel. My understanding is that other members of our caucus were also treated the same way. So even though they had their identification and presented it, which I don't believe they should have to, they still were required to go back and several of them were late for the start of Parliament that morning as a result of those extra few minutes it took them to do that.

When I was leaving the Hill that day, coming out of Centre Block carrying a piece of luggage because I was leaving to go back to the riding, a bunch of RCMP officers were out in front of the tower. I was planning on walking down that way to go get a cab. There was nothing going on at that time on the Hill. The Prime Minister of Israel had already left the Hill. There was nothing going on in front of the flame. There was literally nobody there. The RCMP recognized me, and I was still required to go around the east side and go down that way, an extra number of minutes in terms of getting to my cab.

Those are too many incidents, in particular the part with Madame Laverdière, because I quite strongly believe that more than one of our members was told—I think there were five or six of them—but I haven't been able to identify them.

I'd like your comments. But maybe before you do that, in terms of some of the briefing we had, it is the NDP position that we should not have to produce identification once we come on the Hill property, not just the buildings, not just the Centre Block, but on the Hill.

I sat in on part of the hearings when President Bush was here and we had all the problems with Bill Blaikie in particular. That was my understanding of what the procedure was to be—that as long as the MPs were on the Hill they did not have to produce identification. It was the requirement of the security forces, whoever they were, to allow us to have unimpeded access to the buildings.

11:45 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

First of all let me apologize through you, Mr. Chairman, to Mr. Comartin. The incidents he raises—particularly the troubling one with Madame Laverdière, never mind the one with his luggage—there are absolutely no reasons for that. I mean that's just—dare one use the word—bullying, but certainly it's zealotry of the first water and there's no reason that should have occurred. I'll ask the sergeant to follow up with the RCMP and perhaps he can comment on that, because we were under the impression that there was the case with Mr. Stoffer.

I confess I didn't review in great detail the transcription of the committee's hearings on what happened during the Bush visit, to your point specifically about members not having to carry any kind of identification once they're on the Hill.

I can understand members feeling very strongly that they have privileged access to the Parliament Buildings and to the parliamentary precinct. At the same time, certainly we hope that the business of providing the booklet of photographs ought to suffice for the RCMP in order to be able to identify members.

I guess I'm of two minds in the sense that it makes things easier for people if members are wearing their pins and if members have identification on them—not to be challenged certainly by our security people who are supposed to know them on sight. But I think in instances where there are special visitors and special security arrangements are called into play, I suspect—and I'll let the sergeant speak to this, he's much more knowledgeable about police operations.... Now that doesn't excuse in any way the kind of treatment you tell me—through you, Mr. Chairman—that Mr. Comartin says Madame Laverdière experienced, or his own experience leaving the building. But I think there may be a sort of a heightened vigilance on the part of the RCMP people who are out there worrying that something will happen to the visitor.

Now the visitor has long left. I don't understand what they were doing milling about in front of the Centre Block to begin with. That's another question we might ask.

I'll let the sergeant handle this and doubtless there will be some, how shall we say, interesting conversations between the sergeant and his counterparts at the RCMP following these revelations.

11:45 a.m.

Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

Kevin Vickers

Mr. Chair to Mr. Comartin, on the day in question I met with both Mr. Stoffer and Mr. Pat Martin, and in fact I believe I had a conversation with Mr. Comartin that day as well in the lobby to try to find out and to get any information on any other MPs that may have run into difficulty outside. But to be totally honest with you, this is the first time Mr. Comartin, that I understand there was another MP from your caucus that ran into difficulty.

I can't stress enough—Mr. Janusz, my director of security, is sitting in the room here today—the number of meetings we have with the RCMP prior to these events. We stress over and over again the importance of parliamentary privilege, the importance of these books, and the importance of making sure members are not interfered with coming up out of the precinct.

11:45 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

I don't know if I may be so bold, Mr. Chairman, in light of this sort of heightened vigilance turning itself into a certain zealotry, the committee might want to consider calling the RCMP to have explanations for this. Because as the sergeant says—and I know this for a fact because I get regularly briefed on this—there are very close communications between the RCMP and the security forces, so that the RCMP ought to be perfectly prepared to deal with this situation.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Alright. Thank you.

Mr. Garneau, seven minutes.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Obviously when two potentially conflicting requirements—the security, and obviously, access for parliamentarians—come into play on the same occasion, it's difficult to make everything work perfectly. You've said yourself that there have been many incidents and we were provided with this by the clerk.

I just want to make sure I'm one hundred per cent—and I have some sympathy for the security side of things. If something goes wrong, then we can all be too quick to jump on security. Why weren't you doing your job? So yes, my privilege as a parliamentarian is important, but at the same time I recognize that security is very important.

I just want to be clear whether I have the right assumption at the moment, if I wander into the precinct while on my way to work and I happen to have either my pin or my I.D. card, that should be sufficient for me to access.

11:50 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Absolutely.